When the weather warms up we think of flowers, shorts, margaritas and baby animals — especially spring lambs. At Black Cat Farm in Boulder, chef/farmer Eric Skokan's two-location operation, the lambs are coming fast, and over the last week already more than thirty of these adorable babes have been born. But the season is young; Skokan is expecting another 200 or so births in the next six weeks or so.
"We haven't slept much," says the chef as he helps get a small trailer ready for overnight farm stays. During the lambing season, Skokan, his wife, Jill, and two of his employees, Andie Young and Xavier Dyson, take turns getting up in the middle of the night to check on the little critters. The trailer makes it easier to tag-team night duty since they can sleep on the property.
"Twenty percent of lambs born in bad weather don't need much assistance beyond picking up and moving the mom into the barn," says Skokan. "But 5 percent of the time the lamb is really cold and needs a blanket, heat lamps, a hair dryer and milk from mom."
While plenty of the births go without a hitch, the farmer adds, when the weather is bad things can go awry, and sometimes the babies need a little push to start nursing, or occasionally a ewe rejects her young. Predators are also a problem, as newborns make easy targets. That's another reason the humans keep watch along with the farm's dog, Elwood, a Great Pyrenees who protects his wards.
Last week, at the beginning of the lambing season, we came across a ewe who had just given birth moments before, placenta still intact and the lambs glistening in the sun. She immediately started licking one of her babies to clean it up and also to learn its scent, according to Skokan. Nursing came quickly, and the newborn lamb we watched started wagging its tail like a happy puppy once it latched. Its sibling soon took a turn, and within ten minutes they were both dry and fed.
This ewe, like many in the flock, had birthed twins, something for which Skokan has bred his livestock. Once the lambs start moving and nursing, the team tags them — green for boys and white for girls — and gives them a number. There are 144 ewes and three rams in the flock, and most of the ladies are pregnant or have given birth already this season.
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Eventually the new sheep will enter the flock, be sold or will become a main course at one of Skokan's two Boulder restaurants, Bramble & Hare and Black Cat Bistro. Currently you can order the Tunis lamb shank at Black Cat and mole lamb at Bramble & Hare.
For livestock, these animals appear to have a great setup. If you looked out into the field you would never think close to 150 sheep graze there, and they have plenty of space to move, eat and, during this time, bear their young in peace. But even if it seems peaceful, until the lambing is over, Skokan and his fellow farmers won't get much rest.
Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare are neighbors at 1964 and 1970 13th Street in Boulder. Black Cat (303-444-5500) is open daily from 5:30 p.m., while the more casual Bramble & Hare (303-444-9110) opens at 5 p.m. daily.